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ELCA, Fellowship coaches put seasons into perspective

As Dome Weekend approaches, we ask the four coaches in the state finals seven key questions that help put this season in perspective. Today, it’s the private school finalists – Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy and Fellowship Christian School.

Private School Final: No. 1 Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (13-0) vs. No. 3 Fellowship Christian School (13-0), Friday, 10 a.m., Georgia Dome

Jonathan Gess, ELCA
Fun fact:
  This week prior to Friday’s state title game, former ELCA all-state defensive back DJ Curl will address the team as it prepares to go for a repeat. Curl, a member of the Chargers’ 2012 state championship team, just completed a stellar four-year career at Charleston Southern, which was eliminated from the FCS playoffs last week (15-14, by Wofford). Curl, a three-year starter at safety for the Buccaneers, finished with 163 tackles, 6.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 12 pass break ups, and 2 forced fumbles in four seasons.
What has been the biggest reason for the team’s success this season?
“I think the work the kids have put in since January. The work you put in from January to July puts you in position to be in the hunt. Our kids attacked their off season development hard and we had some kids that we weren’t sure about being varsity players really develop over the summer.”

What has been the biggest area of improvement – during the season and/or from last season?
“We run the jet sweep a lot, whether we have a lot of speed or not. Well, [sophomore CB/RB] Justin Menard has really stepped up. He’s a sub-11 second kid in the 100 [meters], but we didn’t know if he was tough enough or mature enough. But because of him, people really fear our jet sweep. Also we returned a lot of juniors on defense and they’ve continued to get better.”

Who have been your key players this season?
“Offensively, Justin, who I mentioned. [Sophomore WR] Sean Queen is another track kid who has been our vertical threat. [Senior RB] Trevor Gear and [junior RB/LB] Josh Mays have been really solid all year, and [sophomore QB] Brayden Rush is just a fighter. Also, our offensive line, which was a big question mark coming into the season has matured really well. They’re all juniors. On defense, they’re all competitors who play so hard on Friday nights. They play hard and they get after it every Friday night. [Junior DL] Harrison Taylor is kind of the leader. He’s just a big, tough, mean, nasty competitor and he sets the tone for us.”

Who is the team’s biggest unsung hero?
“I would say our kicker [senior] Alex Usry. He kicks [kickoffs] into the end zone pretty much every time. He’s perfect on PATs. He’s a kid that doesn’t get a lot of attention and is kind of taken for granted. Nobody talks about him much, but he’s a major weapon for us and he’s been great all season.”

What concerns you the most about Fellowship Christian?
“They are different from Tattnall in that when you look at Tattnall on film you see a lot of speed and you’re like, oh my gosh. You look at Fellowship and you don’t see a lot of speed. But what you do see is a team full of winners. They win. They make winning plays. They expect to win. They have a bunch of seniors (17) and all of them play, which makes you a better team. The more you watch them on film, the more scared you get because you can see they have good players and they’re well coached, and like I said, they’re winners.”

What will you need to do to beat them?
“Before every game we talk about three things we need to do to win. One, no turnovers. We have to win the turnover battle. Two, we can’t give up big plays for touchdowns. Teams are going to make some plays, we just can’t give up those plays for touchdowns. And three, we can’t have stupid penalties, penalties that keep drives going, stuff away from the ball or personal fouls. We cannot have any of that, especially against a team like Fellowship.”

If you win, who will be the first person you thank when you’re on stage accepting the trophy?
“Jesus Christ. At the end of the day, that’s why I’m doing this. A lot of time we start chasing wins and championships. But as coaches we all got into this because we wanted to help shape the lives of young men, and in my case I want to do that in the name of Jesus Christ.”

 

Al Morrell, Fellowship Christian
Fun fact:
  At the beginning of the season, a website predicted that Fellowship’s chances of making it to the state finals was 500,000 to 1.

What has been the biggest reason for the team’s success this season?
“There hasn’t been one big reason, but a combination of things. We have a great senior class of 17 kids who have been in our system for four years and have bought into our off season conditioning program and our scheme. We have great chemistry on this team. Our team, our coaching staff, we’re all a tight-knit group. We have some talented kids that play hard for each other.”

What has been the biggest area of improvement – during the season and/or from last season?
“Turnover ratio is always big and that’s an area where we have really improved over last season. Our defense has gotten a lot of turnovers for us. We lost four games last season by one score, which means we could have been 8-2 or even 9-1.”

Who have been your key players this season?
“Our quarterback, Jack Hardin, has had a great season. About 95 percent of his passes have gone to Ryan Reid, who has been outstanding for us. Our offensive line has allowed us to run the ball well and they have protected well, too. You have (offensive linemen) Tad Aycock, Charlie Thompson and Jackson Kreikemeier. Andrew Johnson and Andrew Minkert are both 1,000-yard backs. Defensively, [junior DE] Billy McCurry led us in tackles.”

Who is the team’s biggest unsung hero?
“Our athletic director, David Lowery, has really rallied our students and our school community. Unfortunately, our fans haven’t always had as much to cheer for as we would have liked, so maybe they didn’t know how. But last week I think we may have had more fans than the home team. [Lowery] has really raised the level of excitement by providing t-shirts and spirit buses. He allowed students to get into home games for free. He sends emails out to the community and to alumni to get them involved.”

What concerns you the most about ELCA?
“They’re just a perennial  power with a lot of tradition, so they play with a lot of confidence. They’re big, but they have a half dozen skill players who can all fly, and they’re well coached.”

What will you need to do to beat them?
“We have to sustain drives and use clock, basically do the same thing we have been doing all season. We can’t turn the ball over and we have to maintain balance on offense, and we have to minimize their big plays.”

If you win, who will be the first person you thank when you’re on stage accepting the trophy?
“I have to thank God, not that he cares who wins or loses a football game, but I have to thank him for this experience we’ve had, this season we’ve had. We’ve stayed healthy, and this team is as close a bunch of coaches and kids as I have ever been around in my 35 years of coaching.”

 

 


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